Friday, May 1, 2015

What does the George Washington Bridge, The Exorcist and a burned out CVS in Baltimore have to do with each other?

I, like many Americans, watched the city of Baltimore devolve into conflagration last Monday night when bands of young people kicked the hell out of a CVS's ass. The national press descended--as they do, the vultures that they have become--on the city and reported the uprising as if it were an unpredicted natural disaster. A seismic anomaly heretofore never seen in this part of the country. An event so bizarre and remote it could be likened to Godzilla rising from the Patapso River bringing great sweeping destruction and radioactive fire.

We heard anchors use flummoxed words decry "lawlessness" in voice over as images of mostly African American  teenagers plunder buildings, throw objects, smash cars rotated ad infinitum on our screens searing in the message that Black teens are unruly beasts incapable of work, abstinence or self-control. Then like an invading alien force the doors of the mother ships opened and the "on the street" reporters were dispatched to give their lopsided moralistic view points; explaining to those of us watching at home that the problem in the inner city was bad parenting, government free stuff and uppity civil rights leaders. The rogues gallery was all there, from FOX News's Grand Dame of Yellow Journalism, Geraldo Rivera, to CNN's sycophant of White Supremacy Don Lemon. Presiding over this shit show was Jeff Zucker's tarnished dowager, Wolf Blitzer, enforted in the crumbling capital of fact-free news, the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. They blitzed the streets with as much bring-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap rhetoric as possible. Chiding the Black community on its behavior as if Baltimore got that way overnight. Once the video of Toya Gragham dispensing Black Mama Justice went viral I knew all talk of the root cause of the unrest in Baltimore would evaporate only to be replaced with bullshit and conjecture.

Watching the coverage kept making me thinking of the novel "The Exorcist".  When I was in the 11th grade I read the book "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty. At that time I had not seen the movie and wanted to know what all the hype was about. Not only was it a great read; it contained one of the most powerful paragraphs ever written. A passage that I actually had engraved on a plaque to keep it on my desk to remind me there is always a reason to look deeper. It is the first paragraph of Chapter 1: The Beginning.

"Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men's eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all. It was difficult to judge."

And there it was.

America was looking at the horror of a burning Baltimore without connecting it to the beginning. Those roots of despair were being ignored. Those exploding suns of poverty, racism, police brutality, mass incarceration never registered on America's eyes because she was willfully blind. Baltimore didn't collapse because Black people were lazy, Baltimore was engineered to be that way. With a fuse as long as the one in an old "Mission Impossible" opening Baltimore had been smoldering for decades.

Police violence in nothing new to African Americans. Whereas Jim Crow laws, the KKK and hordes of white people could lynch at will across the South, the police became white supremacy's muscle in the North and West. From Boston to Milwaukee to Oakland cops have always brutalized Black people living in cities. The police force has increasingly been used to keep America's Black poor hidden from the pristine sight of the white suburbs. Like the dirty children of Ignorance and Want under the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present. An American cornucopia that many will never eat from.

The Watts Rebellion of 1965 occurred when angry residents of the Los Angeles community heard that cops had beaten up an African American mother and her two sons after a traffic stop. Twenty-five years later Miami went up in flames when a police officer fatally shot a black man causing his motorcycle to crash killing his passenger, another young Black man. Now, almost like clockwork we have another city burning because a young Black man died at the hands of the police. Yet bad parenting and the dead victim's own culpability seem to always be the culprit instead of America facing the truth: police need to stop killing Black people.

I knew things were gonna get bad when Nancy Reagan first appeared as the face of the "War on Drugs". Clad in James Galanos, as fabulous as she was, a rich white woman, the wife of a president, speaking to inner city youth could only mean one thing: TROUBLE. And that's what we got. The War on Drugs has been a mother fucker to poor Black people. Starting with Reagan-Bush then Clinton, this one law enforcement effort has put more Black men in prison than were enslaved 100 years ago. Bill Clinton, who is affectionately called our "first Black president", should actually be labeled a sell out. His administration paved the way for draconian drug sentencing laws that decimated entire communities.

The War on Drugs was never really a war on drugs. Granted during the height of the crack epidemic in the late 80s and early 90s many people both Black and white felt the need to stamp down on skyrocketing violence. But the War of Drugs was a political tactic. It was used famously by politicians like Rudy "the Ghoul" Giuliani in his mayoral race of 1993 and by high profile police officials like Daryl Gates in Los Angeles. The War on Drugs was coded in such a way that it made white suburbanites feel safe to come into cities like Philadelphia or Detroit, because they knew cops wouldn't let roving Black and Latino thugs attack them on their way to the opera or a hockey game. At that time nobody cared that brown kids who could have been saved with sensible laws--yes Donna Shalala was right--were being ensnared and locked up for decades for low level drug possession. Around this same time cities  like New York came up with programs like "Broken Windows" pioneered by commissioner Bill Bratton, which made it permissible for police to go into neighborhoods and harass/ arrest thousands of young Black men for no other reason except them being on the street.

The War on Drugs was never really about drugs. If it were there wouldn't be disparity in drug arrests. There have been study after study showing that Black people and white people use drugs at the same rate. Yet in some communities like Baltimore Black men are arrested for drug possession at a rate of 100 times higher than their white counterparts. When FOX commentators kept asking "Where are the fathers?" last Monday night I kept screaming "They're in prison you assholes!"

I experienced this siege first hand. When I first moved to New York in 1991 the city was a boiling caldera of drug violence. That year more people were murdered than any other single year in NYC history. For many residents violence from both neighbors and police were a daily occurrence. Something had to be done. So the great prosecutorial savior Rudy Giuliani went into action.

It was the summer of 1995 and I was paying a visit to a friend who lived in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. A predominately Latino, poor community it sat at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. It was hot so we went outside to get a sweet cool treat from a Dominican Icy cart. We noticed a police paddy-wagon and curiosity made us stop and watch. The NYPD had set up a sting operation. White suburbanites would cross the bridge from New Jersey, buy drugs on the streets of Washington Heights then hop back on the bridge and return to New Jersey. But instead of arresting the white folk the cops would only grab the Black and Latino kids. We stood there for about 3 hours sipping on cocofressa and watching in horror as white men and women driving BMWs and Mercedes with Jersey plates pull off and return to their lives in Fort Lee or Paramus or Hacekensack and all points west, with no one ever knowing of their addiction or lawlessness. Yet these young men of color were scooped up and taken away, their lives destroyed in an instant. Just so some politician can claim he's tough on crime. That he rid the streets of thugs.

Last Monday night I thought about those young men I saw go into that police van twenty years ago. They put so many in there is seemed infinite. An unlucky TARDIS. One minute of bad judgement on 179th Street and Broadway, a lifetime in Ossining or Attica. I often wonder what happened to them? Nobody ever seems to know. They are the vanished. Just like Freddie Gray. Nobody seems to know anything. Freddie Gray went into one of those vans alive and came out so broken he died a week later. We don't know what happened to Freddie Gray but according to the news his mother was sorry, his father was absent, he had a switchblade and he was walking the streets of Baltimore looking at cops in their eyes. None of those things are capital crimes unless you are a Black person. So we sit and look at Baltimore burn. And wonder how we got here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lena Horne, Light Egyptian

Josephine Baker may have created the road for Black women on the stage and screen but Lena Horne paved it for all who came after. Starting with her 1943 breakout performance in Stormy Weather, Lena Horne became America's first African American sex symbol. Not only was she stunning she was talented. Not only was she talented she was savvy. Not only was she savvy she was not afraid to speak her mind. The original mocha showgirl. I met Lena Horne once when I was working as a manager at a kitchen store named Lechter's. It was 1995 or so. The store was located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was near the back when I noticed a thin women of impeccable taste glissade into our establishment. I was used to seeing glamorous older women shopping  but something about her caught my eye. When I noticed who she was I rushed to the front and introduced myself. Her hands were soft and eyes dimmed with age were still full of life. I gushed like a chorus girl. After she left I turned to the cashier and said "Didn't you recognize her?" She said "Yeah, the lady from the toothpaste commercials." If I could I would have fired her on the spot.

Our paths crossed one again when I had the pleasure of seeing Lena Horne perform one of her legendary cabaret shows. The crowd was sparkling and I must admit I was probably 35 years younger than most of the patrons. Lena sauntered onto the stage and put on one of the most spectacular shows I've ever seen in person. I was thinking I was about to sip a cool iced tea made with refined sugar, what I got was potent blend of bourbon and sugarcane. She sang with such pith and soul I could feel each note tug at my heart. And she was bawdy and sexual. A woman in her eighties rolling the floor in a silk gown growling like a tigress in heat. I loved it. She was a Brooklyn girl.

Maybe Native New Yorker fierceness made her never shy from being candid. From working closely with Civil Rights leaders to speaking openly about Hollywood racism, Lena was a one of a kind. When the studio thought she wasn't reading "Negro enough" on film they had famed make-up artist Max Factor make her a custom shade named "Light Egyptian", as Lena recalled in her 1981 Broadway show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, the studio took the Light Egyptian make up put it on Ava Gardner and gave her the part on the movie version of Showboat.

In her long almost 100 years on this earth Lena Horne touched so many lives, from breaking barriers to breaking heart. She was always a class act and she always proved that Black Girls Rock.

Lena Horne and Bill Robinson giving musical realness, Stormy Weather, 1943

Lena serving you more legs than a bucket of chicken, darling

Lena's Tour de France, on board the steamship Liberté with her husband MGM musical director Lennie Hayton on their return to America, 1952

Pretty angry, Lena Horne by Ricard Avedon, 1958

Lena believed in keeping a fetching man around the house. Her first husband Louis Jordan Jones in Pittsburgh, 1937

 A studio still from 1935

Blackglamazon, What Becomes a Legend Most? Lena in fur that's what, 1969

Lena lifting spirits with Tuskegee Airmen in Alabama, 1943

 The King and Queen, Lena and Harry Belafonte threw Dr. Martin Luther King a party after the March on Washington, 1963

Lena with Medgar Evers shortly before his murder, 1963

Now Sissy That Walk, Lena using New York City sidewalks as a runway

Ava darling I love you but you know Lena shoulda been Julie LaVerne

Broadway Baby, Lena outside the Nederlander Theater, 1981 

Fight the Power, Lena fighting for equality at the March on Washington, August 1963

Her face is sickening!

Background noise, apparently the fitters couldn't take Lena

Baby I just want to join whatever cause these two are championing

Lena Horne's iconic pic that inspired me to write

Girl I make this look too easy!

In living color, 1947

Now we know where Miss Piggy got her style, Lena Horne on the Muppet Show

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why she gotta be light-skinned?

"Why she gotta be light-skinned?"

The question was, I felt, accusatory in nature.  I was at a book event in Charlotte, North Carolina in the fall of 2011. I was signing copies of my books Solstice and The Goddess of Light when an attractive woman walked up to the table. She smiled broadly and placed the two books, one on top of the other, in front of me. I opened the one set on top, pen in hand ready to write some platitude like "Best Wishes!!" or "Good Luck!!--always two exclamation marks--along with my signature (which I've practiced to perfection--an oversized capital letter "D" followed by stylized scribblings with the last letter trailing off with a flourish) when her eyes bored into me. She was a short African-American woman dressed in an HBCU tee-shirt, ripped ever-so fashionably, a long skirt along with a hemp-woven bag. Think a pecan-version of Freddie from A Different World.

"Why she gotta be light-skinned?"

She wanted an answer. And thus I found myself thrust into that irksome quicksand known as colorism. The body politic that is unescapable if you are descended from Africans born in America. The young woman was asking me why the main character of my series of novels, Solstice Maccaffey, was light-skinned. The answer I gave her was that I based Solstice on an amalgam of my beloved female relatives. My mother's drive and ambition, my Aunt Lebbie's style and showwomanship; and her looks based on my aunt Fannie; my father's sister, who was from South Carolina. She was so light that when I was very young I would say "When we goin' to see the white lady in Rock Hill? I like her." That was only part of it. The other part was that since winning the Miss America Pageant I've had a huge crush on Vanessa Williams and wanted to write a story she could star in when Hollywood came calling to do a film adaptation. Still waiting on that. And 'Nessa if you're reading this you can buy the rights for my series at any time and for a very good price.

"But why she gotta be light-skined though?"

She seemed unsatisfied with my answer. I smiled uncomfortably as the line started to lengthen. Now others, mostly women, peered over her shoulders microscoping me, waiting, all with a "Well...?" expressions on their faces. I felt as if I was being questioned by a Lernaean Hydra, each head ready to swivel into attack at the tiniest hint of me being color-struck. I started to perspire under my clothes. These next few minutes would be crucial. I didn't miss the irony that I, a light-skinned brotha, was about to answer the question of why the main character of my novels was light-skined to a line of brown female readers. And to be honest its a fair question.

Complexion politics has always been with us in America. It doesn't matter that there are light brown indigenous people in West Africa. In American beauty and sexuality, intelligence and approachability, criminality and deviance has all turned on what degree of melanin that resides in our skin. So I looked her square in the eye and said "That's a complicated question."

The reason its complicated is because we live in a society that doesn't value us, Black People, as a group, but also judges us according to our complexion. We talk about it all the time. On social media when one activist calls out some one for marrying a light-skinned woman or when a rapper proclaims if President Obama was really dark he would not have been elected. We hashtag it with TeamLight or TeamDark. We instagram it with eggplants. We are photoshopped to be lighter (Gaboure Sibde) or we are photoshopped to be darker (OJ Simpson). We have complexion preferences--"I like my girls thick and chocolate" or "My man is light and sweet like my coffee." We use words like "interesting" to describe the texture of our hair. We use it passive aggressively "She's pretty for a dark girl." We even sing about it in Spike Lee movies. This makes Black literature a minefield when it comes to writing about complexion. Some get it right as does Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye, some don't as in any number of E. Lynn Harris novels or the legion of writers he spawned who are obsessed with the complexion of their characters. But overall, complexion is something that white writers don't have to worry about. Too a white writer a Black character is Black. Extrapolate at will. But a Black writer must tell the assumed Black reader the exact hue of skin Yancy Harrington Baxter is.

We've all seen the story of the Tragic Mulatto. I didn't want to write that. I wanted Solstice to be bold. To confront race. But while confronting race we also have to confront it ugly legacies. There are scenes in my books that hold the complexion debate under a microscope that have caused many angry and supportive readers to  emails to me. Ultimately Solstice is a series of fantasy novels about a witch living during the Harlem Renaissance. But even in a fantasy world we unfortunately have to drag 400 years of oppression with us. That's not to say race and politics have no place in speculative fiction, just reading Samuel Delaney, Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okarafor or Brandon Massey will illuminate that. Rich, powerful stories effused with race, gender and class. I think that's why I chose to make Solstice's best friend so dark. Hooter, that's her names, was the color of ink.

"She looked over at Solstice whose fair skin was considered lavish compared to her matted darkness. Was she less of a person just because she had black skin? Hooter didn’t love her complexion as much as she identified with it. She bathed in its lonely and symbolic depths. She tended to it like a garden. It was the only thing that she could say truly belonged to her."
Through their very different eyes, through the very different treatment they get, we see a world we normally don't see. A world of racism and colorism but also of magic and possibility. A world so surreal that witches exist but one so real that hatred and bigotry do too. A fantasy world where a Black woman, no matter what her complexion, can conquer the world that's the way it should be.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Josephine Baker: The Original Black Girl Who Rocked

When I was writing my first novel Solstice one of the reasons I wanted to write it was because I never saw People of Color in fantasy fiction. As a child growing up I was malnourished to see people like myself in the comic books I read and sci-fi movies I watched. I was a rather introverted child so I didn't have many friends. My cousins would visit on the weekend, but often times on a Saturday afternoon after cutting grass and washing cars I was perched in front of the TV. With reruns of Star Trek and Space: 1999 in all their color blocked glory my affinity for the genre blossomed. But something else happened on those lazy afternoons. Not just sci-fi movies were playing. I soon found Spaghetti Westerns, Cheesy Low-Budget Horror, Film Noir. Mid-Century Melodramas and Technocolor Musicals. And that's when it hit me:

Why can't there be stories with fabulously glamorous Black women wearing creations by Adrian or Edith Head, dripping in Joseff of Hollywood jewels; dashingly chiseled Black men with square jaw swagger and broad-shoulder sex appeal. All impeccably dressed and set in a world so magical the backdrop would make Douglas Sirk chartreuse with envy? From that question, Solstice was born to answer it.

Solstice Macaffey is a broad. More Joan Crawford and less Lena Horne. She's pushy, ambitious and has more personality and style than anybody I or you will ever know. My earliest influences were Old Hollywood. Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, John Gavin, Dorothy Dandrige and Harry Belafonte. If you want to see this fabulousness chronicled look at two of my favorite blogs are Corey@ I'll Keep You Posted and Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist. When I was writing Solstice I drew inspiration from icons of the past.

What makes an icon? A woman with a true sense of self. Confidence to set trends and not follow them. A taste maker. What she wears to breakfast people will be wearing to lunch. As Iris Apfel, who is an icon in her own right, puts it:

"When you don't dress like everyone else, you don't have to think like everyone else."

So for the next few weeks I am selecting one legendary woman for each decade that I feel epitomizes the outrageous and prodigious, the scandalous and sublime. The complete Ovahness an icon is.

Josephine and Albert Prejean on the set of Princess Tam-Tam,1935

Josephine and Princess Grace (Grace Kelly), Monaco, 1969

Josephine and her pet cheetah, Chiquita (the cat had a diamond necklace)

Josephine 1928 saying "Rihana who?"

Get your nails did

Beaded gown 1930

"Marlene, girl I make this look good!"

La Baker had legs darling, with dancer Serge Lifar

Killing it

Serving it

The original smoky eye

Alfred Flury, songwriter and priest, with Josephine in Berlin, 1965 

Yellow becomes her, Josephine 1960s

The cover of the July 1964 issue of Ebony magazine.
It was dedicated to her fabulous fashion

Josephine urging Smokin' Joe Louis to sing with her at her
opening performance at Club Des Champs Elysees, 1952

In color for your nerves

At the center of it all where she liked it. Her husband Jo Bouillon and
singer Georges Guetary, Olympia Theater, Paris, 1947

Bow down bitches! Josephine in Harlem, 1950

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I stood my ground

We are at this table yet again. Unintended invitees to a bitter soup served cold. The best kind of revenge they say. Of course I'm talking about the Jordan Davis murder trial. By now we know all the players and they know their lines. A white man with expressed racial bias comes across an unarmed black teenager and assumes him threatening. The white man demands fealty from the black teenager who bucks back. Heated words are exchanged and the toxic mix of lax gun laws, moronic bravado and good old American-style racism leaves the teenager dead. Then the outrage comes, the trial, the verdict and more outage after the verdict. On and on ad infinitum forever and ever amen.

Since last week a lot of people have discussed how anybody would be confused on finding Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis' murderer anything built guilty. How a white man who routinely uses racial slurs and stated he hated black people can put on a sweater vest and be transformed into Mr. Rogers; while all black men no matter what their station in life are Willie Horton. Gangsters. Thugs. Gang bangers. Violence an immutable trait coiled under our very surface. A russet dermis overlaying a truculent soul.  We are always dangerous. We are always the villain. The killer of Susan Smith's children, the shooter of the banker with the dead pregnant wife on the Charles River Bridge and just recently the man who shot himself then lied and told the police a black male attacked him. It's an all too easy excuse. I mean it has been proven that black men can weaponize anything. That we are all a hare's breath from the long arm of the law.

I had just returned from working in India for about four months. I returned to work that Friday afternoon. There were several new employees. I was introduced to them as their manager when the oddest thing happened. I was speaking with one of the new hires, a charming woman that reminded me greatly of Diane Wiest, when she saw the hint of my tattoo peeking from behind the sleeve of my polo shirt. She asked "Is that a tattoo?"

"Yes," I said.

"May I see it?" I pulled up my sleeve. She looked at it. "I used to volunteer at a youth center in Newark and I used to work with a lot of ex-gang members. All of their prison tattoos had meanings. Were you in a gang?"

"Do I look or sound like I've ever been in a gang?"

"Well I don't know. You are black. I think." she smiled at her own deduction. It took every fiber of my being to not break out singing "America!" from West Side Story complete with Jerome Robbins choreography. "I was a member of the Northside Quips," I snapped, "where blood and glitter ran in the streets after every rumble." She just stared at me for a moment, my shade lost upon the train wreck of her mind.

A few weeks later during our annual evaluation period she wrote in her review, in true conservative fashion, that God lead her to understand the job, and I assume ostensibly me, treated her like a slave and she was nobody's n-word. I fired her on the spot.

These kinds of interactions are what black parents are talking about when they give their children "The Talk."

The Talk is the conversation that some black parents have with their children, primarily boys as they reach puberty. Because once a black boy grows pubic hair he's no longer cherub-cheeked Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman) he's darkened by Photoshop OJ Simpson. For us as black men there's no transitional period. We don't get to use youthful exuberance as an excuse for reckless behavior. We don't have a nation rally behind us when we've been caught stealing street signs and sentenced to a public ass whoopin'. We get shot. Or arrested at staggering numbers. So our parents have to give us "The Talk." To make sure that we are aware that America does not afford us an even playing field. That in many cases the field is slanted to make it harder for us to even get on it. That when you go about your life that there are going to meet people fearful of you for no reason. That they may harm you. That you simply being alive proves a greater threat than influenza or their drunk husband. So be careful of furtive movements. Make sure your car's inspection and registration is current and up to date. Don't loiter in predominately white neighborhoods. Don't give the police a reason to arrest you or worse. Don't give that white lady walking her dog any reason to shout rape. Don't give that teacher any reason to send you to the principal for back-talk.

In full disclosure: I didn't get The Talk.

And you know what? I'm glad I didn't. From the time I was a small child my mother and father told me I could be whatever I wanted to be and go anywhere in this world that I wanted to. There was no limitations on my progress or my imagination. There was no talk of averting eyes. There was no mincing of words. When I got a grade of unsatisfactory in behavior in fifth grade it wasn't because I misbehaved. It was because I argued with my teacher who erroneously said the Civil War was fought over state's rights. I corrected her.  My parents told me to boldly step forward. They didn't teach me to be fearful or subservient. But to speak my mind and follow my heart. So when President Obama said that he could have been Trayvon I understand that he means it not in a literal sense. But in a sense that he would never run from a white man questioning him or his purpose in any neighborhood. I've been pulled over by police on my way home to my mother's house when I was just out of college. The white police officer asked me what I was doing in "this neighborhood" as if to imply the impossibility that I could actually live along a tree-lined street of stately homes. I didn't tell him I lived nearby. Why should I have to? Instead I told him that as a tax-payer I can drive my car anywhere I wanted in Winston-Salem. And if he had no other reason to stop me then he should let me go on about my business. We as black men are under constant surveillance. So our well meaning parents try to prepare us for life and safety. But as Tonyaa Weathersbee stated on The Root this week that keeping black children safe is making it okay for some whites to be racist.  

Let's put these recent murders into perspective. Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were in a place that they had a legal right to be. They were not committing a crime. They had no duty to retreat when confronted by an attacker or angry motorist. They had the right to meet force with force. They had the right to use deadly force if they reasonably thought their life was in danger. They had the right to stand their ground. But in America it is unreasonable to think that an unarmed black man is the victim and not the aggressor.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Facebook hates me

Apparently Facebook thinks my life sucks. It told me so in a neat 1:02 video. For its tenth anniversary Facebook is allowing all its user the joy of watching their digital life over the last decade from the point they joined Facebook. I've seen several "Look Backs." All those smiling faces of friends and family. Trips and birthdays. It was like each pixel was filled with a tiny bit of e-love. As the oh-so-clever music rose to a crescendo I not only felt pangs of joy I was overcome at how full and enriched my Facebook friends lives are. So I eagerly did mine own. I clicked the play button. And for the next sixty-two seconds I was horrified. Here flashing before me were images of 30-year old college pictures, coworkers from jobs long gone, renovations to my mother's house and only one picture of me anywhere. Where were my friendly smiles. Where were my friends. Where were the pictures I posted from Cancun? Milan? Frankfurt? That New Year's eve party or that small dinner. Where was my joie de vivre? Facebook just told me in no uncertain terms that my life just straight up sucked.

Mediocrity is a hard thing to grasp for some of us. As a child I used to sit and dream about greatness. I had such plans. I wanted to be a movie director. From the time I could remember that's what I wanted to do. Make movies. Everything was a film to me. Everything was fantasy. When I was six-years-old my GI Joes and Planet of the Apes action figures (never dolls) were trapped in the board game Candyland where villainous giant Lollipops blew up the Peanut-Brittle Bridge and chased them into the Molasses Swamp. At eight I wrote a short story in Mrs. Thompson's third grade class about an existential dinosaur who sought out the truth of why his kind died off only to find an alien plot against the earth. When I was twelve I had a notebook where I wrote down all the plots of the movies I had created. I made up casts, crew. I made up filming locations. I had an old basketball timer-clock that I nicked from my cousins. I would start it and would repeat my movies aloud in their entirety only stopping the clock to note the running time. My longest faux-film you ask? Was a movie entitled "Masquerade." It was about a woman whose husband left her for some one younger and the emotionally journey she took as she became a movie-star while fighting fame, depression and addiction to drugs and sex. Think of a cross between Valley of the Dolls and Looking for Mr Goodbar. The woman, Betty Ross, committed suicide/ or OD'd in the final scene. I could never decide which so left it ambiguous. That film clocked in at 167 minutes (2:47 to you laymen.) The make-believe actress who played that role won an Emerald Award. It was my version of the Oscars. You see each year I would give out awards for the films that I made the previous year. Since the Oscar statue wad gold I figured my should be a precious stone. So the Emerald Awards were born. For years I kept a list of what film won what for Best Picture and Best Director. I had opening dates and even box office receipt numbers. My two highest grossing movies? "The Owl"--the story of a woman cursed by an avian cult causing her to slowly turn into a monstrous bird and  "Arcade"--the story of a young girl's encounter with aliens that gave her the power to heal the sick by killing the wicked. They both grossed over $1 billion. What can I say I was ambitious in 1978.

Either stupidity or fear got the best of me because I never went to film school. After college I moved to New York City. Now don't get me wrong. I am not being mawkish. I loved--love my life. I have great friends, great family and have had many adventures that will actually make you scratch your head in disbelief. I've visited and lived in other countries. I was on one of the last flights out of Hong Kong the day before it was turned over to the communist. I've seen James Bond Island. Had clairvoyant dreams while living in India. Done drugs with celebrities and done other things with porn stars. Sometimes at the same party. I've met millionaires and homeless and treated them all the same. Worked in the most disparate places imaginable; from operations manager at the Bronx Zoo, to software trainer at a program dedicated to helping women escape domestic violence to being the manager of a graphic presentation group at the world's most prestigious investment bank. Along the way I've been a dishwasher, custodian, clown and we just won't talk about what I got paid to do in the sumer of 1989.  Right now if I threw a party I would have white-bread conservatives eating chicken roulade cheek-by-jowl with transmen anad transwomen. People have used the words "You did that?" around me. But according to Facebook the zenith of my life is a French Door stainless steel refrigerator.

Life is finite. So we have to squeeze as much into it as possible. It's like a banquet you see, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But over the last six years life has afforded me fewer and fewer opportunities it would seem almost on purpose. I've gone from the abundance of Auntie Mame to the decrease of Mrs. Havisham. Not only have these opportunities seemingly dried up but things have come undone. As if their was a hand at work in this mess. Dismantling the different parts of my life. First I had severe financial problems, then my mother developed dementia, then I health problems, then I had bed bugs, then I had to move to North Carolina, then I had to work from home to take care of my mother, then that job was gone, then unemployment was gone. Leaving me broke and humbled. It was a systematic reduction; a cascading system failure; a complete collapse of the layers of my life. One pancaking down onto the next. I felt beset upon like Ramesses. I would lay at night looking out my bedroom window waiting for the creeping mist and the wail of lost children as the hand of God moved through the Nile delta taking the first born of the Egyptians. I beseeched God to at least give me a clue as to why I was being punished so.

Its bad enough that I often feel that life has left me with so little but now Facebook is reinforcing that emotion with a stupid video that illustrates just how far I've fallen. Well all I have to say is fuck you Facebook. I will not allow you to reduce the beauty and joy or even the inelegance of my life to a neat little package of silly little images. I am more than that. How dare you try to make me so small. The volume of my life is vast. I am not some cyber-plaything you can analyze and algorithm then spew out in the form of a hokey video downloadable in multi-device formats. You're a ruse. A falsehood. A canard. I am a real person. With fragile hopes and impossible dreams; of unimaginable sorrow of watching a parent slowly decay, of struggling to find the dignity in that work, of struggling to pay bills and live in a country that prizes excess while I subsist on so little. A person of simple pleasures of walking my dog or listening to my mother play songs on her Steinway piano or Hammond organ plucked from her demolished memory. Of those three hour conversations with friends left behind in New York where the shade is thick and now all we have are reminiscence because I am here and they are there. But none of that was in your stupid little video was it Facebook? It's a difficult place to be in isn't it? And you now that don't you. Needing that human contact even if its on a virtual level; but I won't allow you to tell me that my life is nothing more than a selfie that was liked 157 times. I may not quit you Facebook but I will disengage more frequently from you. Because the more I log-on the more I log-out of my life. So no Facebook I am not going to Look Back. Look back over the life you've fashioned for me. You don't get to choose the soundtrack of my soul or the emotions I should be feeling. You hold us back with your pretty pictures and choruses of like-minded people. You make inaction and inactivity palatable as long as one reads that Al Jazeera story of inequity or likes that video of the laughing baby. A facsimile of human interaction. You meter out your judgment in the form of a condescending short sentimental video. But you know what Facebook? You can keep your shoddy simulacrum of whatever it is you think you've created about me.  I may not be an emperor but I'm not a tatterdemalion either. I'm going to look forward. Not back but forward and move forward with my life. And guess what? There's going to be a lot less of you in it.